Turns out, owning a dog is not only fun but enlightening!
Before I became the happy owner of little Lulu, I always grumbled about people not doing what I tell them to do. Most frustratingly, my significant others – boyfriends, relatives, friends, who seemed to hear me but never altered a behavior. Yes, we all know well what’s good for others and we all freely dispense our unsolicited advice and consistent nagging. A degree in psychology did not curb my enthusiasm for well-meaning judgment and criticism of those around me. After all, I am an educated professional!
Then came obedience training. Day three, we learn about a little concept called “shaping.” If you want a dog to do something for you, the trainer told us, we break it down into small steps and reward any resemblance of what we want with treats and love, all along upping the ante for the dog so it will continue to progress in the direction we want. In other words, we slowly shape the behavior. Dogs, unlike humans, are not insane and don’t do what doesn’t work for them. They’ll try a few times and if they are not getting what they expect or want, they simply give up and try something else until they hit on the thing that gets them what they want.
Humans, knowing this, simply nudge the behavior they want from the dog. One may start with luring the dog with lots of treats in hand. The treats slowly fade in frequency. The dog is sitting, laying down, walking next to you, or whatever you want them to do simply for the opportunity to get a treat, or to get your love and attention, or to get a toy. Eventually, you get the dog to do complicated things. They quickly learn that you are like a slot machine. Sometimes, they get nothing but the fun of playing along. Sometimes they get a few crumbles, and sometimes they hit the jackpot! You get an obedient dog!
Shorkies, like mine, a mix of Yorkshire Terrier and a Shih Tzu, suppose to be stubborn and slow learners. Not Lulu! She’s eager to please and eager to play. She immediately figured out that listening, paying attention and following orders will get her some tasty morsels, scratches behind the ears, and lots of play time.
Back to humans! Yes, why don’t we shape the behaviors of others rather than nag them, yell at them, or fight with them? Lure them in with a little treat, a pat on the shoulder, a compliment, while upping the ante of what we expect from them, until a week, a month, a year later we get the perfectly obedient human who does not leave dirty socks on the floor, washed the dishes, takes the trash out, does not hog the spotlight, remembers to ask you what you want to do and where you want to go instead of simply telling you, remembers to text you sexy pictures of themselves while you are at work, and possibly brings flowers once a week, if not flowers, at least chocolate! Perhaps your mom will learn not to complain. Or your siblings will stop asking for money. Or your kids will finally do their homework and go to bed on time.
Instead of focussing on what’s wrong, what we hate, what bugs us, we focus on what works, lure people into new habits, celebrate their progress, and reward them for trying. All along, we remember to make it fun for them, and it will be fun for us too.
Love and patience, friends. Love and patience.
If you don’t believe me, next time you see me and Lulu on the street, ask her how she got me to smile more, play more, and cook her fresh food. This obedience training really paid off for her.
Meanwhile, I will be incorporating more of these ideas when I coach people individually or couples, making the world a better place, one happy person at the time.